A little over a century ago, Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman (aka “Pixie”) Smith created the world's most popular tarot deck, now known as the Waite-Smith Tarot Deck.
For most of the time since that deck was first published in December 1909, the role of "Pixie" Smith in creating the deck has been underestimated.
However, due mainly to the research conducted by Stuart R. Kaplan and published (1990) in Volume III of his monumental work The Encyclopedia of the Tarot, the prominent role that Smith really played in the production of the deck has finally been recognized .
Birth and family history
Corinne Pamela Colman Smith was born on February 16, 1878 at 28 Belgrave Road, Pimlico, Middlesex County (now part of London), England.
The families of his mother and father were very distinguished. Pamela's parents never used her first name (Corinne), but they always called her Pam or Pamela. When she grew up, her father called her “Miss. Smith. "
Pamela's father, Charles Edward Smith (1846-1899), was an American from Brooklyn, New York; his father, Cyrus Porter Smith, was a wealthy lawyer and the first elected mayor of Brooklyn (from 1839 to 1842).
When Pamela was born, her father worked for a British decorator company: Nicholas, Colshaw and Company.
However, during the last decade of his life (1889-1899), Charles was employed by an American financial union: the West Indies Improvement Company, led by New York merchant Frederick Wesson.
Due to his position as auditor of the company, Charles had to spend a lot of time in St. Andrew, Jamaica and in New York City.
Some sources have indicated that his mother's family, Corinne (nee Colman) Smith (1834-1896), had originally come from Jamaica; however, no evidence was found to support that claim.
In fact, it is almost certain that the Colman family comes from New England.
It is said that Corinne Smith was an avid fan of London theater. She was 12 years older than her husband.
Not surprisingly, after his marriage, he constantly underestimated his age, for example, in the English census of 1881, which records that his age is only 30 years.
Corinne's father was Samuel Cohen (1799-1865), a leading publisher and book writer.
Corinne's mother was Pamela Chandler Colman (1799-1865), author of many children's books, most of them written under the name of “Mrs. Colman. "
All of Mrs. Colman's books were published by her husband, Samuel Colman in Boston or New York. In particular, Mrs. Colman published in 1846 a book entitled Stories for Corinnew, which contains a drawing of herself; In addition, a drawing of his daughter, Corinne, is included in another book of his authorship entitled The Mother’s Present.
Pamela Chandler married Samuel Colman in 1824 and had several children.
In addition to Corinne (1836-1896), there was an eldest daughter, Pamela Atkins Colman (1825-1900). This eldest daughter also wrote books for children under the name of “Miss. Colman. "
His books were also published by Samuel Colman. Therefore, writing and publishing children's books seems to have been an important occupation for the Colman family.
Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951) was following in the footsteps of her grandmother and aunt when she also wrote several children's books.
From England Jamaica
During the first ten years of his life, Pamela Colman Smith (PCS) lived in England.
The English census of 1881 indicates that the Smith family lived then in the county of Lancashire, in the parish of Didsbury. Today this parish is located in the city of Manchester, in the north of England. The family had two servants, including a PCS nurse.
When his father got a job at the West India Improvement Company, the family moved to Jamaica.
From the end of 1889 until 1893, PCS resided with his parents in the parish of San Andres, Jamaica, a northern suburb of the city of Kingston.
The Pratt Institute
In the fall of 1893, due to his proven artistic talent, Pamela's father enrolled her at the Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn.
At that time, the Pratt Institute promulgated an avant-garde teaching philosophy that emphasized the development of students' intuitive talents instead of memorizing memorization of traditional artistic techniques.
He promoted a symbolic art style that Pamela easily adopted.
In total, he studied intermittently in Pratt for about four years. One of his instructors in Pratt was the famous painter and photographer Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922); he encouraged her to study Japanese works of art in the Ukiyo-e style because of the way they showed the interaction of light and dark elements.
This influence is probably reflected in Pamela's artistic technique of first delineating her figures with ink before coloring them.
Unfortunately, in 1896, Pamela's mother, Corinne Colman Smith, died in Jamaica.
Pamela continued intermittently her studies at the Pratt Institute for another year, but apparently never graduated.
During the years 1897-1899, PCS demonstrated a substantial artistic promise.
In 1897, when he was only 19, his works of art were exhibited at MacBeth Galley on Fifth Avenue in New York City. At the end of the year, his illustrations and engravings, sold through the Gallery, enjoyed a constant sales rhythm.
In 1898, Robert Howard Russell, an important New York publishing house, began publishing his works in several of his publications.
One of these publications was a small book entitled The Illustrated Verses of William Butler Yeats, which marked the beginning of his collaboration with members of the Yeats family.
The year 1899 was one of his most successful years as an artist. That year he illustrated a book with words and music from two old English ballads entitled The Golden Vanity and the Green Bed, each ballad was accompanied by six full-color illustrations of Pamela.
He also provided eighteen illustrations, four of them in full color, for a booklet written by Bram Stoker titled Sir Henry Irving and Miss Ellen Terry in Robespierre, Merchant of Venice, The Bells, Nance Oldfield, The Amber Heart, Waterloo, and Other Dramatic Works .
Smith also published two of his own books, Widdicombe Fair and Fair Vanity, both with many of his illustrations.
A trip to England
In the summer of 1899, Pamela and her father made a trip to England.
The trip had been made primarily to investigate employment opportunities for Pamela and promote his new Jamaican folklore book called Annancy Stories, which would also be published in 1899 by Robert Howard Russell.
They called Bram Stoker, the business manager of the Lyceum Theater in London.
Apparently, he told them about the next American tour of the Lyceum Theater Troop, directed by Sir Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.
During their stay in London, they also visited Bedford Park to visit the painter John Butler Yeats (1839-1922), father of William Butler Yeats. John Yeats mentioned his visit and Pamela's book on Jamaican folklore in a later letter written to his son, William Butler Yeats.
Annancy Stories was perhaps the most popular children's book ever written by Pamela "Pixie" Colman Smith; The work is a collection of Jamaican folk tales for children interspersed with many of their own black and white illustrations.
Pixie had resided in Jamaica almost continuously from 1889 to 1893 and then intermittently from 1893 to 1899.
Pixie listened and recorded many stories told by the Jamaican people about the spirit of the African spider Annancy.
In fact, he never lost his love for Caribbean colors and folklore populated with spirits.
The stories are told in Jamaican dialect; That is why they should be read aloud to fully appreciate the beauty of the spoken language.
No way was Pixie making fun of Jamaicans. On the contrary, she was proud to celebrate the land of her youth so full of magic and beauty.
Surprisingly, the book is still printing; the last reprint was in 2006; There are still copies available for purchase on Amazon and / or other important libraries.
The Lyceum Theater Company in London
During her transatlantic crossing in May 1900, Pamela made sketches of herself and the members of the Theater Company.
The sixth American tour of the Lyceum Theater company in London, directed by Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, took place between October 30, 1899 and May 18, 1900.
Pamela Smith, who had recently returned from her trip to England (see above), joined this tour as one of the minor cast members.
He got along well with the company, especially with Ellen Terry, who nicknamed him "Pixie."
Another person he became very friendly with was Bram Stoker.
He was the commercial director of the Lyceum Theater in London and the author of several well-known horror novels, including "Dracula", which had just been adapted (in 1897) for the London stage.
He admired the illustration work that Pamela was doing for Yeats and hired her to illustrate his latest novel entitled "The White Worm's Lair," published in 1911.
In December 1899, Pamela's father, Charles Edward Smith, died unexpectedly in New York.
At the end of the American tour of the Lyceum Theater company in May 1900, Pamela Smith traveled back to England with them. Now that his two parents are dead, it seems that Terry and Irving have begun to assume a de facto fatherly role for this newly orphaned young woman.
In London, he used his theatrical connections to get a job as a set designer in several London theaters.
Pamela also writes and makes illustrations for various brochures and periodicals. He begins to use the nickname "Pixie" that Ellen Terry had given him, thus playing with his image as an artist whose life was immersed in mysticism and fantasy.
His personality was that of an authentic mystic with a childish voice. For several years thereafter, he occasionally made public appearances with his head wrapped in scarves and bright feathers, in a colorful suit that resembled a gypsy outfit.
Then he recited folk tales from the West Indies and sang the avant-garde poetry of the time.
Connection with the Occult
In 1901, Pamela met and became a good friend of the famous Irish poet, William Butler Yeats; She was soon hired by him and his brother, Jack Yeats, to provide illustrations of several of his books and periodicals.
Stoker and Yeats introduced Pamela to several occultists who frequented the theater district around Leicester Square.
A popular bookstore in that area was “Watkin’s Books”, which had recently opened in 1897. Watkins was the first bookstore in the world to openly specialize in occult literature.
This store became a popular meeting place for the esoteric community of London.
Notables like William Wynn Westcott, MacGregor Mathers, Arthur Edward Waite and Aleister Crowley passed through the portals of that store at number 21 of Cecil Court.
Pamela Colman Smith met many of these people and did artistic work for several, including Stoker, Yeats and Waite.
In November 1901, mainly as a result of Yeats' influence, she was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Society with the motto: Quod Tibi Id Allis (What you would have done for yourself).
His greatest contribution to the Golden Dawn would come several years later, in 1909, when Arthur Edward Waite commissioned him to design what became the most popular tarot deck in history: the Waite-Smith deck.
In 1902, he partnered with Jack Butler Yeats as co-editor and illustrator for a newspaper called A Broad Sheet.
Its publication began in January 1902 and contained original art and literature.
This company required a lot of work, but only produced a small financial return. It was said that the magazine possessed both charm and originality, but its appeal to the public was limited.
Pamela worked on the publication only during the first year. In January 1903 he retired from the joint venture.
The Green Sheaf, your own magazine
In 1903, Pamela produced his own art magazine under the title The Green Sheaf.
This project included collaborators such as William Butler Yeats, Christopher St John (Christabel Marshall), Cecil French, A. E. (George William Russell), Gordon Craig, Dorothy Ward and John Todhunter.
His new publication was also short-lived, it only lasted a little over a year – 13 numbers in total.
In 1905 PCS published another book of popular stories of Jamaica, written and illustrated by her, entitled Chim-Chim.
From 1905 to 1906, Pamela was mainly devoted to book illustration. Provided illustrations for the following books:
- 1905 – Tales from my garden by Laurence Alma Tadema;
- 1905 – Four works by Laurence Alma Tadema;
- 1905 – Saints among the animals by Alphaeus P. Cole and his future wife, Margaret Ward;
- 1906 – In the valley of the stars there is a tower of silence of Smara Khamara;
- 1906 – The book of good advice from Reginald Rigby.
During a visit to New York in December 1906, Pamela met renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who had opened a studio in Manhattan known as "Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession" at 291 Fifth Avenue.
Pamela entered the "Little Galleries" and asked Stieglitz to look at some of her drawings and watercolors.
He was barely twenty-eight years old and was relatively unknown when they met. Stieglitz was favorably impressed by his youth, his exotic appearance and unusual art. He decided to show his work because he thought it would be "very instructive to compare drawings and photographs to judge the possibilities and limitations of photography."
The first ten days of the exhibition were very little crowded. Then, a review appeared in the "New York Sun" newspaper by James Gibbons Honeker, which was full of praise.
After the publication of this review, the exhibition attendance skyrocketed and most of his works were sold. Stieglitz took photographs of 22 of his paintings and published a special edition of platinum.
His exhibition attracted many more visitors to the gallery than any of the previous photographic exhibitions of Stieglitz. The success of his exhibition is considered a turning point in Stieglitz's career, which was not only a revolutionary promoter of photography, but now a revolutionary promoter of all modern visual arts.
Pamela had two more exhibitions in the Stieglitz gallery: a joint exhibition, in February 1908, with Willi Geiger and Donald Shaw MacLaughlin; and another individual exhibition in March 1909. The collective exhibition of 1908 had a slight attendance; however, the 1909 individual exhibition was more successful.
The Waite-Smith Tarot
Pamela is best known for designing and illustrating what is now called the card deck of the Waite-Smith tarot for the famous occultist, Arthur Edward Waite.
In 1909, Waite commissioned Smith to produce a new tarot deck that would be of artistic and esoteric quality but easily adaptable for divinatory purposes.
The result was the unique Waite-Smith deck that is the most popular 78-card tarot deck in the world.
Each card in the deck has its own unique scene that may be associated with the divinatory meaning of the card.
Waite probably only participated in the design of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana; the remaining 56 letters of the Minor Arcana were left essentially to Pamela for her own creation.
In addition to Waite, the main inspiration for his design of the Major Arcana was the 18th-century French Tarot de Marseille.
An important inspiration for pip cards seems to have been the 15th-century Italian Single-Search Tarot.
It becomes Roman Catholic
In 1911, to the dismay of his artistic associates and their fraternities and sororers in the Golden Dawn, Pixie Smith converted to Roman Catholicism.
Apparently she remained an active Catholic for the rest of her life.
This act marked the beginning of a gradual withdrawal of close relations with almost all of his former friends and colleagues.
The quantity and frequency of his artistic production also decreased. Virtually nothing is known about his artistic work after the end of World War I.
Retirement in Cornwall
In late 1918, Pamela received a legacy from a deceased uncle (probably Theodore E. Smith).
This money allowed him to move permanently to Cornwall in the southwest of England.
This county was and remains an exceptionally beautiful place, popular with artists. However, he chose that area because it was believed that the Pixies were especially concentrated in the region around Devon and Cornwall.
A pixie was always believed that did not fit well among ordinary humans.
He once told W. B. Yeats that he had seen fairies in Ireland.
It was initially established in southern Cornwall, in Parc Garland on the Lizard Peninsula.
This area is beautiful at any time of the year and is considered a wonderful source of inspiration for artists and writers. Almost surrounded by the sea, the peninsula is alone, in a very real sense, with respect to the rest of Cornwall.
There he remained until the beginning of World War II.
In 1942, he moved to Bude, which is a small and exceptionally picturesque seaside resort in northern Cornwall, located at the mouth of the Neet River.
After that, he lived a very quiet life, remaining as a Roman Catholic until the end.
In 1946, Pamela made a final trip to the United States where he visited New York artist Alphaeus Philemon Cole and his wife Peggy.
She supposedly told Peggy Cole that she should be Catholic because it was so much fun!
Pamela died at 2 Bencoolen House in Bude, Cornwall, on September 18, 1951.